Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The warm-hearted saga of the March family and of the four girls: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy - who manage to have fun even though they are very poor and their father is away fighting in the American Civil War. They form a secret society - The Pickwick Club - put on plays, and make friends with the rich, but lonely boy next door, Laurie.
I will never stop loving this book. I love every single character in their own way, and I particularly love the messages the book sends. There is something moralistic, yet peaceful about the novel; we are taught without being preached to, and learn without realising.
Yes, this initially seems like a standard, nineteenth century novel, with women doing their duties, upholding their religion, and planning their inevitable marriage, however a closer look gives us much more than that. We have one sister who takes pride in writing, and manages to sell her stories to a newspaper; we have a close, platonic relationship between that same sister and a young man; another sister falls in love, but dithers over the marriage, and it isn't presented as the be all and end all of everything. None of these were common in the nineteenth century, and the novel often reflects Alcott's feelings on feminism and transcendentalism.
The sisters are shown as flawed, learning, and incredibly human, and that's why I love them so much. Each is perfectly crafted, with Alcott showing both her good and bad qualities, and how these are built upon as the girls grow older and ultimately transform into little women. Every single mistake the sisters make is presented as a life lesson, which will either hit young readers subliminally, or not at all, but which won't escape many adult readers.
Alcott clearly shows the girls struggling with convention and gender roles, and I believe this is something that is still a struggle today. Jo, in particular, takes issue with not having the same opportunities as a man. She does her best to be 'man of the house', taking opportunity to provide and care for the family. She shortens both her hair and her name in an attempt to become more masculine, but ultimately accepts her place in this time - which is a real shame.
Like all Victorian childrens' novels, Little Women definitely comes with its own dose of morality. It's an old-fashioned story, and has been for a long time, but I can't help but think young people today could really take something from it, whether it be to weigh your wealth in happiness and people around you, or that employing yourself in a task is more worthwhile than being idle. A classic for a reason, and possibly a hard-sell to children these days, it'll always be wonderful to me.